Minimum service levels bill “human rights” breach, say MPs and Lords

Morgan Jones
© godrick/Shutterstock.com

Parliament’s joint committee on human rights (JCHR) has criticised the government’s minimum service bill for failing to meet “human rights obligations”.

In a report released by the cross-party committee of MPs and Lords, the bill, which aims to create restrictions on industrial action, was termed “not justified”. The report called for the bill to be “reconsidered”.

There is no right to strike in UK law. However, the right to strike is considered to be protected by various international agreements to which the UK is a signatory. The report notes: “the UK is bound by these instruments as a matter of international law.”

The report notes that the minimum service bill is potentially in contravention of article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)which concerns the right to assemble.

Speaking to Good Morning Scotland, the committee chair Joanna Cherry MP said the report had found the bill to be “not proportionate” and “excessive”. The SNP MP added: “There is a real potential for minimum service requirements in the NHS to impact more severely on women, and therefore to be discriminatory”.

The JCHR consists of six MPs and six peers. MPs Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Harriet Harman and peers Baroness Kennedy and Baroness Lawrence represent Labour on the committee.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “MPs, Lords and civil liberties groups are queuing up to condemn this draconian Bill. These spiteful new laws are an affront to human rights and are a deliberate attempt to restrict the right to strike – a fundamental British liberty.

“The government is steamrolling through parliament legislation that will give ministers sweeping new powers to sack workers who take action to win better pay and conditions. The Conservatives are trying to keep people in the dark. But make no mistake – this Bill is undemocratic, unworkable and almost certainly illegal.

“And crucially it will likely poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes rather than help resolve them. This nasty Bill should be junked immediately.”

A government spokesperson commented on the report, saying: “The purpose of this legislation is to protect the lives and livelihoods of the public and ensure they can continue to access vital public services.

“We note this report and will consider it in full, but the government needs to maintain a reasonable balance between the ability of workers to strike and the rights of the public, who work hard and expect essential services to be there when they need them.”

The legislation proposes giving the Business Secretary the power to set minimum service levels during strikes in certain areas of the public sector, with employers instructing unions via ‘work notices’ how many workers will be required on strikes days to meet that level.

The bill would apply to six sectors: health, education, fire rescue, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning. Under the law, unions would be required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure members comply with the work notice and could be sued if they fail to do so.

Striking workers would lose their protection from unfair dismissal if the work notice states that they should be working, provided that their employer has given them notice ahead of the strike day.

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